Marrakesh (mar· uh· kesh) – aka The Red City, The Land of the Atlas, The Maghreb
Marrakesh can be an overwhelming smog of spices, motorbikes, shouting salesman and dangerous traffic down alleyways that all seem to look the same after a while – but if you can navigate it, you can love it. I recently took my second trip there, and so I wanted to share the best the City has to offer with you – at least, in my humble opinion. You only need a long weekend in Marrakesh; it’s a place that can be seen in a couple of days. I stayed a little longer as I went for Christmas, leaving the City for a day with an excursion by Atlas and Sahara Tours. So, without further ado…
The Atlas Mountains
Our driver Rashid picked us up at 9am and we set off to Imlil Valley, stopping at a mountain side to check out the Argan Oil Cooperative where women were grinding argan nuts and blending the oils with the likes of orange blossom, rose and eucalyptus for a fragrant, healing potion. We drove further into the valley and was introduced to our tour guide Mohammad, who walked us through the Berber communities on the mountains.
Walking on the edge of cliffs and chasing waterfalls that oversaw the Atlas Mountains was breathtaking, and not for the faint-hearted – luckily we had Mohammad to (literally) hold our hands as we climbed to see Toubkal, the highest mountain peak in North Africa and the Arab world.
Lunch was served at the Riad Jnane Imlil, and I’d recommend anyone stay there if they are looking for seclusion and serenity – standing at a height surrounded by mountains, all you can hear is the sound of cows, roosters, and the Muslim the call to prayer.
We had lunch on their rooftop terrace, with views to die for.
We then got a camel ride through red mountains before being dropped home in time for dinner, which we had at our Riad after such a long day of hiking.
Speaking of places to stay, we chose to lay our heads in Riad Dar Beldia, a beautiful open air home with the most accommodating staff.
It lay in a quiet corner only a few minutes’ walk from the centre of everything, which gave us the best of both worlds.
Vegetarian, chicken, lamb, veal tagines… honestly I can’t look at another tagine for a month or so yet. Despite the options being plentiful, you can have bad tagine in Marrakesh – in fact, our first meal was quite ghastly – we redeemed ourselves on the food front pretty quickly, though. Must tries are:
Pepe Nero – We went here for Christmas dinner, and boy was it the best thing we did. We tried their famous pigeon pie, a Moroccan staple, followed by seasonal vegetables and a slow roasted melt-in-your-mouth shoulder of lamb. We were too full for dessert, but had to try something anyway – we went with the Bourbon Vanilla Crème brûlée and I mean, I have no words.
Kasbah café – one of the best tagines I had, hands down. Eat on the roof for beautiful views to accompany the beautiful dishes.
Zwin Zwin – this cute western style café serves delish food in a casual setting. Here we tried their eggplant for starters, with their sweet chicken pie dusted with almonds and cinnamon, and a strawberry and rose smoothie.
Café Clock – another one adorned with cool artwork, this place is famous for their camel meat burgers which were worth the journey for.
They do live music nights, so check what events they have coming up to enjoy a show with your camel grub.
So, in Marrakesh there are three palaces, and locals will point them out to you wherever you go – the Bahia Palace, Badi Palace and Royal Palace. Walking along the towering palace walls provides a sense of calm when you’ve spent all day navigating the smoke filled souks. Note, the Royal Palace isn’t open to the public.
The Saadian Tombs
The Saadian tombs are a must see in Marrakesh for the architecture.
Dating back to the Saadian Dynasty in the 1500’s, the mausoleum houses around sixty of their members. Entry is around a quid and the photo opportunities are endless (CATS! CATS ARE EVERYWHERE BTW ♥).
Located outside of the old city’s walls, Gueliz is known for its shopping. It was the closest I got to home if you want that sort of thing – stuff like McDonalds, H&M and Zara. We ventured here to see the Majorelle Garden, a botanical delight previously owned by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé – when Yves Saint-Laurent passed away in 2008, his ashes were scattered there. The villa also contains the Berber Museum and the Islamic Art Museum and just next door is the Yves Saint-Laurent museum, too.
Having looked at all of the prices and packages available at the most popular hammams of the city, from Hammam de la Rose, Heritage Spa, to La Mamounia, we decided to go for Les Bains de Marrakesh.
Here we got a 45 minute hammam which included a scrub with their famous black soap, followed by a rose clay mask. We then showered off and enjoyed an hour long draining massage, before being sent to their relaxation room for mint tea and cookies. We did this on Christmas day, and boy it was such a treat. Leave your modesty at the door, cos they gon’ scrub you everywhere child.
Jamaa el Fna
Jamaa el Fna is the main square of Marrakesh and it’s where all the action happens – monkeys, cobras, dancers, flute players, stalls selling argan oils and pomegranate juice – it’s all there. It’s an overwhelming place and to be honest, my least favourite part of Marrakesh; it just feels too disingenuous and pushy. That being said, it is the area to haggle for beautiful rugs, lamps, and dreamily fragrant solid perfume bars (amber, musk, jasmine, orange blossom, rose, oh I died and went to heaven) and so much more, from black soap to chunks of raw indigo.
And that’s it folks!
Would I go back to Marrakesh? Na – I don’t really think it was for me, but I’d be up for trying Agadir next time. In terms of the Middle East, I fell in love with Cairo, which I’d recommend to anybody if it is safe enough. My blog post on Egypt is here.
Next on my hitlist is America (Arizona/LA) and Pakistan, which literally feel like polar opposites right now! Ironically, both trips would be to visit family members – diaspora life, dawg. Anyway, did I miss anything? Do you recommend anything in Pakistan or Arizona for me? Let me know in the comments! x